PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – For weeks Phil Mickelson has repeatedly said he was close to playing some good golf.
His practice sessions at home were productive, the money games were paying off and Lefty felt just right heading out to the PGA Tour.
But his game got lost in translation.
He started his year by not breaking par in the American Express and missing the cut. The following week, he broke par once and finished in a tie for 53rd. Then he flew halfway around the world to tie for 53rd in the Saudi International. Flew back and then shot 74-80 at Pebble Beach and missed the cut.
Another week of good work at home went for naught again as he tied for 20th in the Cologuard Classic on the PGA Tour Champions.
His poor play – which extends back into 2020 where his best finish in his last 11 starts on the PGA Tour was a tie for 44th – dropped him out of the top 100 in the official world rankings for the first time since 1993. That’s 1,425 weeks, folks.
Players Championship: Leaderboard
So, of course, on Thursday, at the problematic Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, where Mickelson won The Players Championship in 2007 but later said he couldn’t believe he won around this place, and when Rory McIlroy signed for a 79, Tony Finau a 78, Henrik Stenson an 85 in the first round of the PGA Tour’s flagship event, Mickelson turned in his best round of the year.
With birdies on his first two holes and two more on his last three holes, Mickelson posted a 1-under-par 71 and collected some hope for coming days.
“I haven’t played well in a long time, and although I’ve felt like it’s close, I haven’t been scoring. To finally shoot a decent number, that feels good and I’ll try to build off of that,” Mickelson said. “The parts have felt like they have been there, but I haven’t been scoring, so to get off to a good start is nice.”
Mickelson said it’s been the little things that have kept him down.
“Short game hasn’t been as sharp, haven’t putted as well,” he said. “My iron play hasn’t been quite as good. But it hasn’t felt far off, but I just haven’t like put it together. So my whole thing is to just try to shoot a number, just try to score and not really worry about the technical side right now.
“It’s always come kind of pretty easily for me to visualize and play fearless and see the shot clearly, and when that’s not happening easily and you actually have to sit down and work on it, it is a challenge. But what I have found over the years is when I struggle in a certain area of my game and I talk about it or I just discuss it with other people or teach what I’ve learned, I end up being more conscious of what I need to do and it actually helps me fix it.”
As for dropping out of the top 100—he’ 101st – Mickelson wasn’t crushed.
“I really haven’t thought about it, to be honest,” he said. “It was a cool run. I haven’t played well lately, and I just want to play well. It just feels good to play good golf, and there’s nothing physically inhibiting me from playing good golf.
“I’ve been mentally making the game harder than it is. I just need to fix that, just think a little bit better.”